Want to Connect with Consumers on a Deeper Level?
Look Beneath the Surface.
I can’t tell you how many companies I see pumping out big brand properties (like websites) without any real forethought. They already know what they want to say about their products or services. And they’re sure they already know everything about their customers because they’ve been selling to them for years. Right?
Wrong! The landscape has changed. Consumers don’t want the sales pitch anymore. So if you want to engage them, you’d better know their priorities and motivations—and be able to respond to them—because chances are, they’re not the same as yours.
It seems like lots of companies don’t realize how much research and planning are needed to win over the right customers and put coins in the bank.
Case in point: luxurious home furnishings, rudimentary website
A few months ago, Sailshaker teamed up with one of our frequent collaborators to craft a new e-commerce website strategy for an ultra-luxury kitchen and bath brand.
The client had realized that their exquisite products didn’t shine on their website. Instead, the site was set up more like that of a big-box hardware store. In discussing the disconnect, we learned that the site’s structure reflected the company’s needs instead of its customers’ shopping patterns—and then the successful growth of product lines had inflated the site beyond the bounds of its original structure.
In addition to uncovering some universal usability issues that had cropped up as the company grew, we learned that the website audience was downright diverse—interior designers, architects, contractors, installers, commercial builders, and not just do-it-yourself homeowners, but also those employing design and building professionals.
As you might expect, each of these groups had their own expectations of what a luxury e-commerce website should do for them. Our charge was to identify, prioritize and strategize a new site that would satisfy all of their requirements.
If you want to uncover valuable insights, you have to immerse yourself in complexity.
For a couple of months, we dove deep into the process of discovery, searching for the insights we needed to make our recommendations:
- Met with the executive suite to understand their vision
- Conducted market research about luxury buyers and their online behaviors
- Reviewed other ultra-luxury websites to gather trends and best practices
- Parsed a raft of analytics data to understand which audiences were buying online, what they were buying and where they were having trouble
- Visited showrooms to see how the in-store experience differed from the website—and how the two worked together to support the customer’s purchase decision
- Interviewed internal product teams, commercial sales people, showroom personnel, customer service staff, marketing managers and creative directors to find out how the site could better support them and their customers
- Interviewed design professionals and homeowners to figure out which site features would be most helpful to them
- Pored over the existing product pages to see whether they were providing customers the information they needed to make educated purchasing decisions
Audience research can, and should be, exhaustive. That’s what ultimately produces the best results.
Learnings may amaze you—and allow you to chart a true course to your next success.
To demonstrate the enormous upside to customer research, I thought I’d share some of the more meaningful insights we uncovered.
Perhaps the most important one was this: Even in the digital age, customers don’t buy luxury products online. In fact, e-commerce represents a scant 4 percent of luxury sales.
How come? People want to experience luxury in person; it’s not a transactional purchase, but a hands-on, emotional one.
Equally important, we discovered that luxury websites play a critical role in supporting the product research and selection process for all buyers—B2B and B2C, alike.
How so? Every audience we met with agreed on one thing. They all expected a luxury website to make them feel like they were part of something extraordinary.
They wanted to be inspired. They wanted to see images of exquisite products in unique environments. They wanted to understand the founder’s design philosophy. They wanted to know the story behind each product—including where, how and by whom it was crafted.
Only then did they want to consider logistics. They wanted to be able to search every product by each of its characteristics—style, color, finish, size, material—to imagine how it might look in their home. And they wanted to immediately engage a design expert who could help them assemble a complex order or find a product they could see in person.
Reacquaint yourself with your audience before you make marketing decisions.
Before we conducted our research, the client leaned toward adding interactive tools to its site in an effort to support what it perceived to be the customers’ desired experience.
Afterward, everyone agreed that the taking care of the basics incredibly well was most important—and for the client, that meant focusing on the photography before anything else. In fact, they’re working on 3D models that will support a more efficient photography process in the future.
And Sailshaker? In the end, we developed a strategic blueprint for a new site that would echo the same superb quality and craftsmanship as the hand-sculpted products it would feature.
It’s worth it, in the end, to look beneath the surface before you start your marketing efforts. Your customers, staff and collaborators will help you uncover the hidden dangers lurking in the depths, just waiting to sink you.
Of course, now I’m curious about how well you’re getting to know your customers. Are you talking to them, or at them? Are you creating personas to guide your communications with each customer group—or setting out into the great blue on hope and hearsay?